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Disney first: black princess in animated film

The Walt Disney Co. has started production on an animated musical fairy tale called “The Frog Princess,” which will be set in New Orleans and feature the Walt Disney Studio’s first black princess.

The film, set for release in 2009, also is the first hand-drawn film Disney has committed to since pledging last month to return to the traditional animation that made it a worldwide brand.

“The Frog Princess,” a musical scored by composer Randy Newman, is “an American fairy tale” starring a girl named Maddy who lives in the French Quarter in New Orleans, said John Lasseter, chief creative director for Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

Disney did not provide details of the plot, but the company showed shareholders preliminary drawings from the movie. Newman and a jazz band played a song from the movie’s score.

Maddy joins eight other Disney princess characters, who have generated $3 billion in global retail sales since 1999. Disney Princesses is the fastest-growing brand for the company’s Consumer Products division.

Disney introduced its first non-white animated heroine in 1992's “Aladdin”: a Middle Eastern character named Jasmine. Three years later an American Indian princess appeared in “Pocahontas.”

The creation of the Chinese heroine from “Mulan” came in 1998. Other Disney princesses are the main characters from “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney aggregated the eight characters in 1999 under the banner Disney Princesses and has rolled out toys, books, clothing, furniture and other merchandise aimed at girls ages 3 to 8.

Disney chief executive Robert Iger said the company wanted to show its support for New Orleans, only partially rebuilt 18 months after it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, by holding its annual meeting and setting its newest animated film in the city.

“The film’s New Orleans setting and strong princess character give the film lots of excitement and texture,” Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook said.

John Musker and Ron Clements, who co-directed “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Hercules” will co-direct the movie. The pair also wrote the story for the film.

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